Thursday, December 26, 2019

Winter Trout Fishing on the Rio Chama Below El Vado Dam

Toner Mitchell shows off a fine example of the resident brown trout that can be found during the winter in the Rio Chama below  El Vado Dam.
(Originally published 2012, updated and republished 12/26/2019)
In the dead of winter when most anglers are yearning for a fight with a feisty trout there are only a few places one can try in northern New Mexico.

But for those seeking the solitude of a lonely stretch of river, incredible scenery and the possibility of catching a fat fish, then the Rio Chama below El Vado Dam is where it’s at.

Located just a couple hours north of Santa Fe off one of the most scenic highways in the state lies a secluded stretch of the Rio Chama where trout fishing can be had in the midst of winter.

During a mid-week, early February trip we found the river free of any other anglers and caught a couple of fine examples of the big trout that lie in wait in the murky waters below the dam.

Anglers will find up to six miles of good fishing on the river below El Vado dam as it carves its way through a deep, wild canyon before being confined again by the dam and lake at Abiquiu.

Designated a federally protected Wild and Scenic River for 25 miles below the dam at El Vado, the river is popular among rafters, canoeists, kayakers during the spring, summer and fall months.

The river is then frequently running high to supply downstream irrigation demands and provide an adequate flow for river runners.

But in the winter when the gates are shut down and the water drops, anglers in the know make the trip to this stretch of water to enjoy its fabled fishing.

“This is a place where anglers really need to dial back their expectations, though,” says Toner Mitchell, veteran fishing guide, former manager of the Reel Life fly shop and a Santa Fe native. “It’s the kind of river where if you catch a trout, then you’ve had a good day.”

Mitchell, now the state's public lands coordinator for Trout Unlimited, recommends anglers interested in fishing the Rio Chama below El Vado dam familiarize themselves with some basic winter angling techniques.

Those fishing with a spin-casting rig will find that baits like worms and salmon eggs drifted under a bubble may work much better than using a spinning lure due to the sluggishness of trout during the cold winter months.

The same applies to fly fishermen and women.

Egg and worm patterns presented at the proper depth and methodically dead drifted through a target area may work much better than stripping a streamer through a pool, Mitchell says.

But regardless of the fishing gear used, the real key to success on the Rio Chama in winter may have more to do with the weather than anything else.

Being prepared to hit the river when the weather turns mild during breaks between storms and cold fronts is critical to catching fish when they’re feeding, Mitchell says.

The trout may then be found loitering at the tail end of a pool where a good, dead drift is essential for attracting one’s attention or they may be feeding up in the shallow riffle just above the pool.

That’s why it’s crucial to methodically fish an entire segment of water before moving on, Mitchell says.

It’s also very important to use a proper weight to get the fly or bait down into the zone where the fish are holding, Mitchell says.

Too much weight and your offering may drift right under the trout while too little may put it out of their reach.

“Sometimes you have to literally hit them on the head with it before they’ll bite,” Mitchell says.

And changing weight while also adjusting the length of a strike indicator, bubble or bobber can often be more significant than what fly, bait, or lure is being used, Mitchell noted.

Anglers should also be prepared to deal with the Rio Chama’s notoriously slick streambed where studded, felt-soled wading boots are highly recommended.

Anglers venturing into the canyon should also be prepared for a day outdoors by dressing in layers, carrying plenty of water and having an emergency space blanket, fire starter and a couple of high energy bars on hand - just in case.

It should be noted that the state record brown trout came out of the Rio Chama and can still be seen mounted on the wall of the El Vado Ranch store, says owner Dave Cooper.

Measuring in at 35.5-inches in length and weighing just over 20 pounds, the monster brown trout was caught with a live minnow by G.T. Colgrove of Decatur, TX, on July 8, 1946, Cooper says.

Cooper, 65, grew up by the river on the 100-acre ranch his parents owned and says big trout are still routinely pulled out of its waters with the average brown trout measures about 17 inches and some being caught as big as 28 inches.

“It’s still one of the best fisheries in the state,” Cooper says with pride.

El Vado Ranch offers anglers parking on the river at $5 a day and sells some tackle and groceries in its store.

Fully furnished log cabins are also available for those who might want to stay the night after a hard day of fishing.

Cooper said anglers who need something might have to go looking for him as he is frequently not in the office and out on the property instead during the winter months.

And while the Rio Chama continues to produce excellent fishing year after year a study of the river’s health is underway, says Steve Harris of the non-profit Rio Grande Restoration Project and owner of the rafting company Far Flung Adventures.

And negotiations with the governmental agencies that own and control the river’s water is underway too which will hopefully lead to improvements on a number of different fronts.

“They recognize things can be improved,” Harris says.

For instance, the brown trouts’ reproduction rates could improve greatly by simply altering the water delivery schedule to keep trout spawning beds sufficiently wet during critical fall months, Harris noted.

Those and other suggestions are part of ongoing discussions with a number of agencies including the Bureau of Reclamation which operates the dam and appears receptive to revising its operations to improve conditions on the river, Harris says.

For more information about the project see the Rio Grande Restoration Project’s latest newsletters Chama Flow Report # 1 and Chama Flow Report # 2. and visit their website for updates at

IF YOU GO: From Santa Fe take US 84/285 north to Espanola. Continue on US 84 north to the blinking yellow light at the crossroad of NM 531 near the village of Tierra Amarilla. Turn left onto NM 531 and follow past Escalante High School to the intersection of NM 112 and turn left again. Follow to the turn off for El Vado Ranch just before reaching the dam.

Even the stocked rainbow trout can grow big on the Rio Chama below El Vado Dam.

Originally published 2/13/2012- Updated 12/2013 and 12/26/2019. Republished 12/26 2019.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Visit Bosque del Apache for great fall bird watching and Festival of the Cranes

Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 
Thousands of migrating birds are back at the Bosque del Apache and fall is a great time to visit the refuge and enjoy the spectacular wildlife display.

“The show is on,” says Chris Leeser of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. “Now is the perfect time to come and enjoy the fall colors along with all the birds.”

The 57,000 acre wetland refuge provides migrating waterfowl a place to stop, rest and feed during their travels south for the winter. 

Many cranes, geese and ducks stay on at the refuge where food and water is abundant and there’s plenty of open space.

Visitors to the refuge especially in the morning and evening will enjoy watching large groups of birds taking off and landing amid a symphony bird calls.

Other wildlife also live on the refuge and visitors may see coyotes stalking the flocks, turkeys strutting or deer grazing in the fields.

The refuge features a popular 12-mile long auto tour route that wends its way among the marshes, ponds and fields of the refuge.

The refuge also features numerous hiking trails and roadside viewing areas. There is no camping or overnight parking allowed on the refuge. Pets are not allowed outside of vehicles from Oct. 1 through March 31. The refuge is open one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset. The entrance fee is $5. Visit the refuge’s website at for more information or call them at 575-835-1828.

Those traveling to the refuge may want to save their appetite for when they get there as the nearby town of San Antonio features three of New Mexico’ best green chile cheeseburger joints, the Owl, Buckhorn and Crane cafes.

Next month the refuge will host the 32nd annual Festival of the Cranes from Nov. 20 through Nov. 23 with more than 130 events scheduled.

The festival some call New Mexico’s balloon fiesta for birdwatchers draws thousands of visitors from all over the world who participate in photography classes, seminars, tours and other activities. Visit the website for more information and registration.

Many visitors come to photograph the cranes known for their artful dancing and posturing while sweeping vistas, deep blue skies and immense cloud formations serve as the backdrop.

The refuge is about 95 miles south of Albuquerque off Interstate 25. While in the area the public is welcome to visit the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish’s 17,000 acre Bernardo Wildlife Area where crops are grown to feed migrating birds. The area features a three-mile auto tour loop and several elevated viewing platforms where visitors can watch birds. 

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

New Director of state Outdoor Recreation Division to speak at Outdoors Economic Conference

A lone angler fishes on the Rio Costilla in the Valle Vidal of northern New Mexico.
Silver City will host an Outdoor Recreation Economic Conference this weekend where promotion and support of the state’s industry will be the primary topic.

The conference at the Grant County Conference
will feature seminars and speakers from numerous outdoor related federal and state agencies, private businesses, advocacy organizations and political leaders.

The conference will include panel discussions about successful community and company programs that promote outdoor recreation opportunities, eco and wildlife tourism, state promotional resources, benefits of trails, sustainable tourism, federal partnerships with land management agencies and equal access to the outdoors.

The public is invited and more information about attending can be found on the website

With over 40 percent of New Mexico’s land in public hands, great weather and friendly people, the state has long been an outdoor recreation mecca.

But the industry as a whole has long suffered from neglect due to its diversity and lack of a trade association.

That is slated to change now that the state has created an office of Outdoor Recreation under the State Economic Development Department.

The office’s new director, Axie Navas, who managed digital media and marketing for Outside magazine in Santa Fe is scheduled to speak at the conference.

Navas said in a recent interview that her first priorities will be to take stock of the industry, get out and meet the players and develop a strategy for helping support and promote them.

The industry is diverse, including hunting, fishing, hiking, boating, camping, sightseeing, bird watching, golfing, skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding, motorized off-roading and other outdoor activities.

Taking inventory of all the state’s businesses, agencies and others involved in the outdoor industry is already underway and plans to provide digital media and other promotion support also are being considered, Navas said.

The state’s outdoor recreational industry brings in about $10 billion in consumer spending each year accounting for an estimated 10 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, according to the recent academic and business studies.

The industry supports close to 100,000 jobs across the state and generates almost $3 billion in payroll while providing more than $600 million in taxes to government coffers.

The fly fishing industry on the San Juan River at Navajo Dam alone produces up to $30 million in business every year while anglers spend about $268 million statewide, according to New Mexico Department of Game and Fish reports.

Other areas of the outdoor industry are more difficult to quantify due to a lack of information and studies. That also could change now that the outdoor industry has an office within state government dedicated to it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Volunteer on National Public Lands Day

Volunteers will find plenty to do and places to go to help celebrate Public Lands Day in New Mexico this Saturday.

The Continental Divide Trail Coalition is hosting a free cookout at Hopewell Lake in northern New Mexico for volunteers and the public as it celebrates completion of 100 miles of trail through the Carson National Forest.

“This was a huge effort over the last decade involving so many people,” says Amanda Wheelock of the Coalition based in Golden, Colo. “Now its time to celebrate.” 

Volunteers will help do some low impact maintenance on the trial near the lake before settling down to indulge in hotdogs, cake and revelry. The event is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. Camping, fishing and hiking are available. Hopewell Lake is off U.S. 64 between Tierra Amarilla and Tres Piedras in the Carson National Forest.

The 3,100 mile trail passes through New Mexico as it follows the Continental Divide between the Mexican and Canadian borders.

Volunteers can visit several other lakes around the region to help out on projects with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Entrance fees also are being waived for the day at all of their sites.

Abiquiu Lake
At Abiquiu Lake they’ll be putting up a new playground, cleaning up the shoreline and creating pollinator gardens. A free night’s camping is being offered to volunteers involved in that project. 

At Cochiti Lake they’ll be planting cottonwood and willow trees along the shoreline near the swim beach and boat ramp to provide more shade and habitat for wildlife.

Volunteers also will be helping clean up the shoreline, campgrounds and roadways at Conchas and Santa Rosa Lakes and enjoying a free lunch for their effort. Visit the Corps Albuquerque District Office website for more details.

The Bureau of Land Management and the state’s National Forests are all hosting various events at different locations, dates and times. Consult their websites to learn more and participate.

And Public Lands Day means the state’s national parks are offering free admission to places such as Bandelier, Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands, Fort Union, Pecos and others. See their website for more information.

And while New Mexico’s state parks don’t have any special events scheduled for National Public Lands Day, a visit to any one of their more than 30 parks would still be a great way to celebrate the occasion. See their website to find a park.

New Mexico has an abundance of public land with over 40 percent of the state owned and enjoyed by the people. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

Visit Bandelier National Monument for a Great Late Summer Escape

Frijoles Canyon at Bandelier National Monument.
With summer waning and vacation crowds thinning it’s a great time to visit one of New Mexico’s many scenic historic sites such as Bandelier National Monument.

Just a short drive from Albuquerque or Santa Fe the national monument showcases ancient Indian cave dwellings in a remote forested canyon.
Visitors can learn more about the people who lived in the canyon and caves as they hike among them along a 1.2 mile main loop trail. Ladders allow visitors to climb into the caves for a firsthand experience while plenty of interpretive signs are posted to provide historical context.

More adventurous guests can continue up the canyon to Alcove House where they’ll scale four sets of ladders to a large cave in the cliff face about 140 feet above the canyon floor. The dizzying heights are not for the meek of heart and make for a memorable visit.

Pole ladders lead up into caves at Bandelier National Monument. Photo courtesy of Leanne Arvila.  
After a couple of hours touring the main loop trail and Alcove House many guests return to the visitor center where they can enjoy an excellent 14-minute film about the monument while relaxing in the air conditioned comfort of the monument’s auditorium.

Recently produced by award-winning National Park Service cinematographer John Grabowska, it features towering, expansive views of Bandelier, the Pajarito Plateau, the Jemez Mountains, the Valle Caldera and the Rio Grande.

The film was shot during different seasons of the year with many scenes taken by helicopter and played back in slow motion to give viewers the sense of flying over the countryside.

The park also offers plenty of other activities including demonstrations by artists from surrounding pueblos, guided hikes and evening seminars at the park’s Juniper campground amphitheater.

Visitors will find other hiking and camping opportunities within the monument by visiting the Bandelier website at

A cloud burst at Bandelier National Monument. Photo courtesy of John Gonzales of Lubbock, Texas. 
The basic park entrance fee is $25 per private carload which is good for seven days and allows access to Tsankawi and other areas of the park such as Burnt Mesa.

At Tsankawi visitors can take a 1.5 mile walk along a mesa featuring numerous caves, petroglyphs and the ruins of the village of Tsankawi. Ladders are in place to allow guests to climb up to the mesa top and come down the other side.  Views of the Rio Grande Valley and opposing Sange de Cristo mountains are impressive here.

The parking lot for Tsankawi is found off N.M. 4 at the intersection of the East Jemez Road, also known locally as the Los Alamos National Labs Truck Route. Visit the monument’s website and download a good map of the area at

Visitors to Bandelier are required to travel into the monument on a free shuttle bus between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Before or after that visitors can drive in. The monument is open dawn to dusk. There are exceptions including vehicles displaying a handicapped placard and for vehicles containing animals, although not pets are allowed on trails within the monument. Campers and wayward travelers  park at Juniper Campground where they then take the shuttle down to the visitor’s center.

The author drives a Bandelier shuttle bus for Atomic City Transit
The shuttle buses are operated by Los Alamos County Atomic City Transit under contract with the National Park Service. The buses leave the White Rock Visitor Center off N.M. 4 every 30 minutes starting at 9 a.m. during the week and every 20 minutes on the weekends. The last bus is scheduled to leave Bandelier daily at 5 p.m. on weekdays and 5:10 p.m. on weekends. All buses stop within the park at Juniper Campground to pick up and drop off passengers.

For maps, directions and more information please visit the monument’s website at or
contact them by telephone at (505) 672-3861 x517. for more information 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Enchanted Circle a great New Mexico roadtrip

The visitor pavilion at Eagle Nest Lake State Park.
New Mexico’s high country is looking great after a long snowy winter and plenty of rain this summer.
And a good way to enjoy some of that scenic beauty is to take a drive along the Enchanted Circle, a 65-mile round trip from Questa through Red River, over to Eagle Nest and back to Taos.

A recent drive revealed anglers reeling in trout at recently restored Eagle Rock Lake off N.M. 38 just outside the town of Questa. The picturesque lake is stocked regularly and is a great place to cast a line before heading over to Red River.

Eagle Rock Lake.
A quintessential summer resort town, Red River offers so much to do one needs to stop and ponder it all before proceeding. The patio at Red River Brewing Company overlooking busy Main Street offers great spot to do that.

Tucked in a canyon surrounded by heavily forested mountains, outdoor recreation and the visitors it brings are the primary focus of Red River’s economy.
Main Street of Red River N.M.
A walk about the teaming tourist town reveals a go-cart track to race around while the nearby ski area lift offers a lazier and more scenic ride.

Horseback rides, off-road vehicle rentals and guided fishing trips can be had while plenty of restaurants, saloons, gift shops, sporting goods stores and art galleries round out the town’s offerings.

The area features numerous campgrounds, motels and hotels for visitors to stay in and attracts many guests from nearby plains states such as Texas and Oklahoma.

Upon leaving Red River, the Enchanted Circle tour continues with a climb over Bobcat Pass at 9,800 feet and winds down into the rural Moreno Valley.

Bobcat Pass.
The valley had once been a booming gold mining area with the city of Elizabethtown at its heart. At the time it boasted a population of 7,000 with saloons, gambling halls, theatres, businesses and several newspapers.

Now the gold and the town are gone and the valley is a quiet place dominated by sprawling ranches and expansive views.

The highway ends at Eagle Nest where the local state park and its beautiful visitor center features a beautiful outdoor pavilion overlooking the lake. This spot is one of the state’s best kept secrets and is a great place to stop for a picnic and some fishing.

The state park also features a campground for those who might want spend the night while the nearby town offers overnight accommodations, gas and groceries, fishing supplies and a classic western style saloon.

The valley also is home to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park where visitors can learn more about those who served and died in that war.

The Enchanted Circle commences on U.S. 64, up and over 9,100 foot Palo Flechado Pass and down through a twisty canyon along which the Rio Fernando de Taos flows. At the intersection of N.M. 585 travelers can head west to reunite with N.M. 68 and take that road back home.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Valles Caldera Backcountry Open to Motorists

Editors note: The backcountry is open this summer too but you'll need a fishing and vehicle permit from the NPS to go angling. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit their website for more info.

The Valles Caldera National Preserve’s backcountry is open again to motorists this summer providing free access to prime fishing, hiking and other outdoor activities.

“The public enjoys the convenience of driving into the preserve,” says Kimberly DeVall, Chief of Interpretation and Education for the National Park Service’s preserve in the Jemez Mountains. “And we’re happy to be able to provide them that opportunity so they can enjoy all the preserve has to offer.” 

The backcountry normally opens up by mid-May but was delayed until just recently this season due to road repairs, says DeVall.

The preserve issues up to 35 backcountry motor vehicle permits daily to motorists visiting the 89,000 acre preserve. The permits are issued on a first come, first served basis at no cost. The preserve is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. No permits will be issued after 3:30 p.m. and all motorists must check out by 5:30 p.m. There is no camping available on the preserve.

DeVall says they rarely run out of permits during the week but on the weekends they tend to go quickly.

Visitors will find 26 miles of dirt and gravel roads to travel within the vast backcountry featuring plenty of hiking and biking trails and great fishing on San Antonio and Jaramillo Creeks. No pets are allowed in the backcountry.

A recent visit to the preserve during the week revealed only a handful of vehicles in the backcountry and most of them belonged to anglers. Motorist must remain on established roads and park in only in designated areas. Portable toilets are provided.

The two backcountry creeks flow through great, open meadows and are noted for their deep undercut banks where trout can hide. A two fish bag limit is in effect on the preserve, a valid state license is required and only artificial flies and lures with single, barbless hooks are permitted. Waders are not needed but a good hat, long sleeves and plenty of sunscreen and bug repellant is recommended. Fishing supplies and groceries can be purchased in the nearby town of La Cueva.

Some visitors to the preserve may enjoy just driving into the backcountry for some sightseeing and a picnic. San Antonio Cabin is a scenic spot with picnic tables for use and visitors are reminded to clean up after themselves.

The preserve also is home to many wildlife species including elk, bear, coyote, eagles and turkeys and the best viewing opportunities are in the morning and evening.

The preserve can be found off N.M.4 between Jemez Springs and Los Alamos. For more information about the Valles Caldera National Preserve please their website at or call the preserve at 575-829-4100.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Shady Lakes Still the Place to Fish in Albuquerque

One of the bass ponds at Shady Lakes where plenty of largemouth bass lurk under the lily pads.
Shady Lakes in Albuquerque’s north valley is still a great place for kids to learn to fish or for more experienced anglers to stalk bass.

The private ponds offer largemouth bass, bluegill and trout fishing under the shade of mature cottonwood trees and in the shadow of the nearby Sandia Mountains

The scenic setting is made all that more eye pleasing this time of year by the abundance of colorful blooms dotting the water lilies blanketing the bass ponds.

The Phillips family has been operating the fishing preserve since 1952 when former Albuquerque advertising salesman, Jim Phillips, bought the former bait fish farm and converted it to a private fishing park.

Ron Joseph "RJ" Annichiarico, 67, of Rio Rancho shows off a nice largemouth bass he was caught while fishing at Shady Lakes. 
Guests do not need a state issued license to fish at Shady Lakes. Anglers pay $11.95 a day for catch and release bass fishing while angling for trout costs $8.95 for adults and $6.95 for children under the age of 12. All trout caught must be kept at a cost of .75 cents per inch.

The park is open Wednesday through Sunday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the season from spring through fall.

Jill Mikles, 66, took over management of the park from her sister Jan who left several years ago following a long stint at the helm. The park continues to operate while remaining available for sale with an asking price of $2.5 million.

Mikles said the fishing ponds will receive a fresh supply of young bass this summer along with a
large quantity of panhead minnows that they prey upon. Trout are re-supplied as needed on an ongoing basis.

During a recent visit a grandmother could be seen helping a passel of kids bait up their hooks and providing sage angling advice. 

Kids have been learning to fish at Shady Lakes for generations.
Other anglers waited in the shade of the overhanging trees for a bite from one of the largemouth bass lurking under the lily pads.

Still others lounged in camp chairs enjoying a cold drink while watching the ever-present groups of children playing around the park.

After more than fifty years Shady Lakes is still one of the Albuquerque area’s best family friendly, outdoor recreational destinations that should be enjoyed while it still exists.

Shady Lakes is at 11033 Hwy 313 NW just across the road from the Sandia Pueblo Roadrunner train station near the  roundabout at the intersection of Second and Fourth Streets and Roy Ave.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

State Parks building a new tent campground on the San Juan River

The San Juan River at Simon Canyon below Navajo Dam - Spring 2019.
Campers will soon have a new place to pitch a tent on the banks of the San Juan River at Navajo Lake State Park.

“We’ve got some of the best fly-fishing in the Southwest and lots of visitors asking for tent sites so we’re excited to finally be able provide them some right on the river,” said Chris Smith, superintendent at Navajo Lake State Park.

The state park in northwestern New Mexico features the state’s top trout fishery in the river below Navajo Dam. The reservoir above is regarded by many as the state’s best smallmouth bass fishery.

The park saw over a half million visitors in fiscal year 2018 with about half of them visiting the five miles of river within the park, Smith said.

The park offers camp sites on the river at Cottonwood Campground where the availability of a dump station and full hookups of water and electricity at all 48 sites draws many visitors with travel trailers or motor homes.

But the persistent demand for tent sites resulted in plans to build a new “dry” campground on 66 acres of state owned land on the south side of the river just upstream of the Crusher Hole day use area.

Site of the new dry campground on Navajo Dam Lake State Park's Johnson Tract.
The new campground should be complete by 2021 and is slated to feature two vault toilets and 20 pull-through sites each with a shelter, campfire ring and picnic table. 

Native shade trees and other vegetation will be planted throughout the campground, Smith said. A new pump house and acequia has already been constructed on the site to draw water from the river for irrigation purposes.

Cost to construct the new campground is estimated at $1.1 million with much of the funding coming from a grant through the recently re-enacted federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling are earmarked for the fund which provides grants to purchase land for outdoor recreation and other public benefit.

The San Juan River has long been a top trout fishing destination for anglers due to a huge population of large trout of and many miles of public access.  The river’s draw brings in an estimated $30 to $40 million annually to the state’s economy with much of that generated from of out-of-state anglers, according to economic and other published studies.

Fisheries biologist Marc Wethington of the N.M. Dept. of Game & Fish shows off just one of the many beautiful trout that can found lurking in the waters on the San Juan River below Navajo Dam.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Good snowpack in 2019 should create great conditions for rafting, kayaking and canoeing

Photo courtesy of New Wave Rafting. 
With so much snow in the mountains this winter rafting guides and outfitters are expecting a great runoff season.

“It should be a banner year on the Rio Grande Box,” says Steve Miller, president of the New Mexico River Outfitters Association.

And that means it should be a great year to take a hair-raising, white-knuckle ride guaranteed to make you feel alive.

The “Box” runs through a deep, rocky gorge in the Río Grande del Norte National Monument between the John Dunn Bridge at Arroyo Hondo to the Taos Junction Bridge above Pilar.

It’s 16 miles of whitewater thrills and chills and one of northern New Mexico’s best outdoor adventures, Miller says.

Whitewater enthusiasts from around the country converge on the “Box” during high water years and this year is shaping up to be one of them.

Snow pack surveys by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service (USDA NCRS) show well above average levels in the mountains of southern Colorado and New Mexico. Visit more detailed information.

When all that snowpack melts and flows downstream through the state’s rivers, creeks and streams it produces great conditions for rafters, kayakers and canoeists.

Those interested in the sport can get a taste of all the fun by booking a trip with an experienced outfitter through, Miller says.

Miller, who operates New Wave Rafting out of Embudo, says there are many different kinds of rafting trips to enjoy on the Rio Grande.

Rio Grande's "Race Course."
There’s a fast, furious five-mile run featuring plenty of thrills that can be taken in the morning or afternoon on the “Race Course” between Quartzite and the County Line takeout.

Those more interested in sightseeing including wildlife can take a gentler, seven-mile float through the Orilla Verde Recreation Area between the Taos Junction Bridge and the Quartzite take out at Pilar.

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep at Pilar.
There are also backcountry trips on the Chama River and angling adventures as the season progresses through the summer, Miller notes.

Last year was one of the worst years on record for snowpack and the lack of runoff left many in the rafting industry struggling.

“We’re looking to rebound this year,” Miller says.

The great snowpack this year also should produce some much needed relief for many of the state’s reservoirs.

Reservoir levels monitored by the NCRS show many are at well below their average capacity and in need of replenishment.

The great winter snows combined with a good monsoon season this summer should go a long way towards reducing the drought conditions that have repeatedly plagued the state in recent years. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Historic lodge, cottages and cabins at Elephant Butte Lake make for a great getaway

The historic Dam Site Lodge at Elephant Butte Lake.
History, hot springs and fantastic fishing make a stay in the lodge or cabins at Elephant Butte’s Dam Site a great spring getaway.

“We absolutely loved staying here,” said Brenda Provins of LaPeer Michigan who spent six weeks with her husband staying in one of the Dam Site’s recently restored historic cottages. “It was a great vacation.”

Visitors to the Dam Site also can spend a night in one of eight well-appointed rooms within the historic lodge or rent one of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built rock cabins overlooking the lake formed behind the 
imposing dam.

A lodge room featuring artwork by Degrazia.
Neal Brown is president of Lago Rico Inc. which operates the Dam Site lodging and three marinas on the lake under license with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Brown and his crew of craftsmen have been restoring the Dam Site’s historic buildings since taking over the operation from New Mexico State Parks in 2015.

“It’s been a labor of love,” he says of his efforts to restore and improve the accommodations offered at the Dam Site. “But it’s worth it to preserve one of the prettiest places in the southwest.”

Visitors relaxing on the lodge’s veranda or a cabin porch are afforded a great view of the lake’s namesake, Elephant Butte.

Elephant Butte.
And it’s just a quick drive down the lake’s edge to fish for bass and other species, especially during the spring when angling conditions improve.

Above the lodge and cabins guests will find a park constructed by CCC workers featuring barbecue grills and shelters with even more great views of the lake.

Evidence of the CCC handiwork during the Great Depression can be seen everywhere at the Dam Site which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Statute honoring CCC workers.
The CCC was a Depression-era government program that provided unemployed men jobs and housing in work camps around the country. There are many such sites in New Mexico and for more information please visit the State Historian’s website at

Guests at the Dam Site will find plenty to do in the area.

In the nearby town of Truth or Consequences visitors can bask in the waters from natural hot springs offered at several different establishments.

A private hot tub with a view overlooking the Rio Grande at Riverbend Hot Springs in Truth or Consequences. 
The town also boasts one of the state’s oldest and best steakhouses, plenty of great shopping and the Geronimo Springs Museum.

The nearby town of Elephant Butte caters to anglers and offers many different access points to the lake throughout the state park.

A drive around the surrounding countryside reveals miles of remote desert and expansive scenery in every direction.

Spaceport America in the desert outside of Elephant Butte Lake. 
The federal Bureau of Reclamation operates the dam and is pleased with the restoration work Brown is doing to the historic structures.

“He has taken on a lot of this work on his own, invested a lot and is doing a fantastic job there,” said Mary Carlson of the Public Affairs office of the federal Bureau of Reclamation in Albuquerque.

A restored CCC built cabin at the Dam Site.
Those interested in helping with the restoration cause need only rent a room at the lodge or a cabin or cottage. The Dam Site also offers campsites for recreational vehicles. For more information and reservations visit

Interior of a CCC built cabin under restoration at the Dam Site.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valles Caldera a Wonderful Winter Adventure

The winter is a great time to visit the Valles Caldera National Preserve especially when it's blanketed in a sea of gleaming snow.

“Anytime is a good time to visit the preserve,” says Kimberly DeVall, Chief of Interpretation and Education for the National Park Service’s preserve in the Jemez Mountains. “But when we have all this snow it’s really special, simply serene.”

The 89,000-acre preserve off N.M. 4 near the village of La Cueva between Jemez Springs and Los Alamos is a great place to go cross country skiing, snowshoeing or just sightseeing when winter delivers snowy weather.

And it’s made even better because the preserve isn’t charging its usual $25 entrance fee again this winter.

Those seeking the kind of quiet solitude only a wide expanse of snow-covered pasture and deep forest can provide will find just that at the preserve.

During a recent visit one could see people on skis and snowshoes dotting the huge snow-covered pasture formed by a collapsed volcano.

Inside the visitor center, found a couple miles off the highway, volunteers answered questions and handed out maps to guests while a stack of logs blazed away in the fireplace. The center offers snacks, beverages, books and gifts as well as snowshoe and ski pole rentals.

Visitors can ski or hike to the nearby “cabin district” where the park’s headquarters, employee housing and several rustic log cabins are nestled among the trees. Numerous movies and televisions shows have been shot at the Caldera including “Longmire” which features these iconic cabins.

A visit here provides the opportunity to listen to the breeze in the trees, enjoy the scent of pine in the cold crisp air and take in some spectacular views.

During warmer months visitors will find herds of elk, soaring bald eagles and other wildlife to view at the preserve. There’s plenty of wild brown and rainbow trout to fish for in several creeks and rivers as well as hiking, biking and other outdoor recreation to be enjoyed.

For more information about the Valles Caldera National Preserve please their website at

The preserve was formerly the private Baca Ranch purchased by the federal government in 2000. It was originally operated as a trust overseen by a board appointed by the president of the United States. Public use was very limited under the trust and the National Park Service was later chosen to take over its operation in October 2014.

DeVall, who worked with the original trust as a recreational program manager applied for and was hired to work for the incoming National Park Service administration. She has since helped implement changes to provide greater public access to the many outdoor recreational opportunities available at the preserve.

If You Go:

From Santa Fe head north on US84/285 to Pojoaque and take State Road 502 to White Rock and then follow State Road 4 up through the mountains and upon emerging into a great, open area look for the entrance to the preserve on your right, further down the road, about 65 miles. Make a round trip of it by continuing on State Road 4 through Jemez Springs and Jemez Pueblo to State Road 550 for a quick drive down to Bernalillo and then back up to Santa Fe on I-25. Great green chile cheeseburgers and cold beer can be had in a classic New Mexico bar, the Los Ojos, in Jemez Springs.

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